Obscure District Law Mandates Vacant Lots to Be Converted to Community Gardens

Obscure District Law Mandates Vacant Lots to Be Converted to Community Gardens

In 1984 the District of Columbia passed a law that stipulates that the Mayor of the District of Columbia would implement a Food Production and Urban Garden Program (full text available here). The intent of the law is to harness wasted space within the District by taking inventory of vacant lots across the city every three months and then making them available to be converted into community gardens.

The list of vacant lots is to be published in the District of Columbia Register, and is to be made accessible to the public along with the “dates of availability, by voluntary donation and through negotiated agreement, for use in the Food Production and Urban Gardens Program.” Also to be included are standard forms for citizens and owners to use to facilitate the transfer of property.

This is beneficial to both owners and would-be gardeners as it releases delinquent owners from the responsibility of rehabilitating the land and enables residents to make use of the limited urban space available for local food production.

Reclamation offers myriad health and educational benefits as the law also recommends cooperation between urban gardeners and the Board of Education to use burgeoning gardens as tools for teaching science and gardening. By incorporating gardening education into public schools, students will be able to participate in growing food for themselves, their families, and neighbors,  which is economical, sustainable, and empowering. Developing and implementing a gardening curriculum will “prepare students for related career opportunities such as restaurant produce supply, landscaping, and floral design”, while increasing the amount of food that is grown locally and potentially available for sale at farmer’s markets.

The list of vacant properties is maintained by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and has been updated as of August 2009. There are 33 pages of addresses just in the one document that lists Vacant Properties with no exemptions, and an additional 14 pages of properties which have some exemption (the reason is not provided) for a total of 2,173. Each address is identified by an “SSL” number and are organized by Ward.

There is no information on the DCRA website about the Food Production and Urban Garden Program, although there is a fact sheet about Vacant Property in Your Neighborhood. Under a new law passed in 2006, the DCRA handles vacant properties that contain a building, and the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) manages the vacant lots which do not contain a building.The OTR website, however, does not provide a list of vacant lots.

The point is: this information is difficult to find. Even finding out about the law took help from a law student and Lexis Nexis.

If the law hasn’t been repealed, it should have been implemented in 1987: “Within 90 days of February 28, 1987, the Mayor shall develop proposed rules to implement the provisions of this chapter. The proposed rules shall be submitted to the Council of the District of Columbia (“Council”) for a 45-day period of review… If the Council does not approve or disapprove the proposed rules, in whole or in part, by resolution within this 45-day review period, the proposed rules shall be deemed approved.”

Mayor Fenty said on May 8, 2009: “My goal is to eliminate all vacant property in the District and put these homes and buildings back into productive use.” DCRA is asking residents and property owners to email the agency at vacantproperty@dc.gov with comments about a new system to physically secure vacant buildings. Please also email them about the Food Production and Urban Garden Program.

Why haven’t we been making use of this excellent program for the past 20 years?

Why don’t we start right now?


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